Do you want to see an incredible, important part of San Diego history? Then head over to the National City Depot Museum, which is operated by the San Diego Electric Railway Association. Last year they obtained the three only remaining streetcars that operated in the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park!
As you step into the depot museum, you’ll see a sign that describes the history of these historic cars. To summarize:
In 1910 the Class 1 streetcars were designed in San Diego and ordered from the St. Louis Car Company. Twenty four cars were built, and they began operations in San Diego in 1912. These cars would operate on various streetcar lines until 1939.
In 1939, a couple residing in El Cajon bought three streetcars that weren’t scrapped; in 1996 they were acquired by a local antique dealer and moved to storage on Adams Avenue; and in 1997 the cars were designated San Diego Historical Landmark #339.
Between 1997 and 2013 extensive restoration work was performed on car 138 by San Diego Historic Streetcars, as you can see in my photographs. There had been a plan to operate the cars during Balboa Park’s 2015 Exposition Centennial.
Finally, in 2021, the three historic streetcars were donated to the San Diego Electric Railway Association in National City, where the public, on open weekends, can freely observe them up close!
The plan now is to obtain wheels for car 138, and to fully restore the car so that it will endure for future generations.
Anyone who is intrigued by San Diego’s history, and what life might have been like around the time of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, must see these three original streetcars!
With a little imagination, one can picture the colorful cars running up rails that once existed near today’s Park Boulevard, transporting crowds of excited visitors to the exposition grounds!
The book Rails of the Silver Gate by San Diego railroad historian Richard V. Dodge provides a description of cars 125-148.
At the other end of the National City Depot Museum’s large outdoor yard stand the two unrestored streetcars, numbers 126 and 128.
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